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Feeling stressed lately? Or worried, resentful, frustrated? Your body can’t tell the difference between these feelings and real danger. And your health suffers if this perceived danger happens repeatedly. Read on to see how an understanding of the mind can help.
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The Emergency Stress Response
A friend and colleague, Dr. Bill Pettit wrote something that caught my attention. Bill is a psychiatrist who shares an understanding of the principles behind how the mind works with his patients. Here’s what Bill wrote:
Chronic mental stress such as guilt, resentment, feeling driven, worry, over-analysis, investment in what others think about you, and frustration related to the inability to control the behavior of others leads to the chronic activation of the body’s emergency stress response.
Bill went on to explain that the moment we think we are in danger, our bodies trigger the emergency stress response. Our bodies secrete the stress hormones adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine into the bloodstream. These hormones bring about changes designed to help the body deal with the threat – to either fight it or flee from it – hence the name, the fight or flight response.
This stress response is very powerful. It disrupts the normal bodily functions that keep us healthy. For example, the secreted stress hormones cause our blood vessels to constrict, tightens our muscles, elevates our heart rate, changes our stomach and digestive function. These changes are designed to help us when there is an actual emergency, then pass once the emergency is over.
But, wait a minute. Dr. Pettit wrote that chronic mental stress chronically activates the body’s emergency stress response.
In other words, if you worry a lot, often feel driven or resentful or frustrated when others don’t behave the way you want, or obsess about what others think of you or you over analyze – the emergency stress response gets triggered.
Your body does not know the difference between being attacked by a bear and being “attacked” by your chronic worry. The only difference? When attacked by an actual bear, your body will return to normal once the attack is over. With chronic mental stress, there is no break.
Worry, resentment, frustration can appear harmless but the research is unequivocal. A body under persistent stress can incur both short and long term consequences. The list of negative health consequences is a long one. Here are just a few:
- High blood pressure
- Cognitive impairment
- Decreased immunity from communicable diseases
Now, some good news. An understanding of how the mind works is both a treatment for and a vaccination against chronic mental stress in all its common forms. Here’s what I mean:
Insight Principles partner Ken Manning told this story at a recent Insight Synergy Program. He inadvertently left a spoon in the blender while making his breakfast smoothie. The blender exploded, spraying blueberry liquid all over the kitchen. He cleaned up the mess as best he could but now he was late. He could feel the tension in his body as he got into his car. As he began to create scenarios in his mind, his hands gripped the steering wheel and he found himself driving well over the speed limit.
How late will I be?
Who’s going to start the program?
Robin and Sandy will be upset with me.
The client will think I’m irresponsible.
I’ll lose credibility.
Ken was in a full-blown emergency stress response. But then an interesting thing happened. He saw what was happening in his mind. He awoke to the fact that he was thinking he was in danger and his body was reacting as if that danger was real. In truth, Ken had no idea what would happen when (or if) he showed up late. He created an imaginary emergency using the power of thought.
When he saw what was happening, his mind settled down along with his speed. And he arrived on time!
Your mind can settle down anytime just as it does when you realize that the scratching sound outside the window is a tree limb blowing in the wind and not an intruder. Once you see what’s really going on, you stop producing thoughts of danger.
Can you prevent all stress from being created in your mind? No, but that’s ok. Your mind and body handle acute, infrequent stress well. Waking up to the inside-out nature of experience is the antidote to chronic stress. Reducing the chronic activation of the emergency stress response will improve both your physical and mental health.
The human mind truly is designed for success.